How Effective Teachers Motivate Students by Thinking Outside of the Box

If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The EdvocateThe Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.

However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.

One of the hardest things for teachers to do is to make their students excited about learning. For some teachers, this comes naturally, and others must work at. To give you an idea of how effective teachers motivate students and make learning fun, read the case study below, entitled “Brenda’s Motivation.” Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.

Respond to the questions below:

  1. Was the contribution equally divided among students and the teacher?
  2. How did Brenda find ways to ensure students paid attention to other students’ projects as well?
  3. Was Brenda’s project the most effective way to get students motivated?
  4. Was Brenda successful in getting the community involved in her students’ education? Would there have been better ways?
  5. What would have happened if the professionals did not want to participate? Could Brenda have prevented such a situation?

Brenda’s Motivation

Brenda was beginning to think that her students lacked motivation. In one class meeting, Brenda asked her students, “Why are you not interested in learning anymore?” Students’ answers ranged from, “We don’t know why we are studying” to, “Is there any use in coming to school?”

Brenda realized that she had to find a way to motivate the students. She decided to give them a long-term project on careers. Some students seemed to already have their minds set on occupations such as entering the police force or becoming a scientist. For students who didn’t, Brenda gave them time to make choices. If they were unable to choose, she chose occupations based on her knowledge of students’ talents and personalities. If more than one student had the same choice, those students could form a group.

After everyone was assigned an occupation, she gave the guidelines for the project. Students would have to give two presentations: one focusing on the general background of the occupation and an explanation of their own interest, and one based an interview with someone currently working in that position. The focus of the project was to demonstrate how learning in school, whether it was broad or specific, could serve as preparation for reaching a goal. Brenda gave students freedom with their presentations and advised them to seek help from their parents by asking them to find appropriate professionals to interview.

From then on, it was the student’s responsibility to arrange meetings with the professionals and conduct the interviews. As a supplement to the project, Brenda contacted a few departments and companies, and several speakers came to talk to students about their professions. The effort paid off, and the results were better than Brenda had expected. The presentations were creative and inspiring and achieved concrete results: students who wanted to be writers started to work on writing every day, while students who wanted to be astronauts put more effort into science classes.

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